Tag Archives: Horror

Ghost Story, October 9, 2018

So here’s my ghost story.

Y’all, grad school is…an experience, to be sure. Some classes are ridiculously easy…like, to the point I’m suspicious of it…and others are crushingly, crushingly difficult (to the point that the term “identity moratorium” is taking on an unexpectedly personal meaning).

There have been…a lot of late nights. Memorizing, conceptualizing, possibly overdosing on caffeine but being too preoccupied to notice the physiological symptoms. I live on campus, and between the hours of midnight and two a.m. you’re likely to find me downstairs in my building’s common room, hunched over a laptop and occasionally typing notes in Google Docs.

Anyhow, a couple weeks back, just as the fall air was beginning to blow cold here in Tennessee, I was downstairs at around one in the morning, wrapped up in a hoodie and flannel pajamas. I was absorbed in the differential diagnoses for schizophreniform disorder, and I as I busily made flash cards I nearly jumped out of my chair as someone pounded on the window about a foot to my right.

The blinds were closed, slanted downward, so whoever was outside likely couldn’t see me. But I could see their form well enough. I saw them hover for a minute, then walk over to the other window, pause, and walk back over to the window by me. I expected someone to call out asking that I let them in – which, hell with that, I ain’t looking to get robbed – and then they walked off. A moment later I heard the double doors rattle, as though someone was trying to shake them open. Then the figure passed my window again, paused, and walked off.

Again the doors rattled.

I got spooked, gathered my things, and made my way upstairs. Before leaving I turned my head as the doors stopped rattling. I couldn’t see anyone who might have been outside.

The next day as I made my way to and from class, I passed the front desk on the way to my room. I heard a resident talking about the portrait of the elderly lady in the lobby – our building’s namesake – and how when she dozed off on the sofa she had been surprised by how the painting seemed to be staring at her.

“Yeah,” the desk clerk said, “people say they get unnerved by that painting.

“So funny,” the woman said. “I mean what’s a painting really gonna do, right?”

“I dunno,” I heard the clerk say before I made my way up the stairs, “People say the doors shake sometimes…”

Maybe I was being inhospitable. But if so, I think I’m comfortable with that.

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October 2, 2018

So here’s my ghost story.

Growing up in the country, my granddad and his twin brother Roy saw their fair share of wildlife. They grew up with two other brothers and two sisters, with a widowed mother who was kind and gentle in her tone of voice despite the grueling labor that came with Depression-era subsistence farming. There were plenty of long hot days when the family would built heavy, sturdy fences to keep the few animals they owned safe from the creatures that roamed the pinewoods around their homestead.

One night when my grandad was fourteen, there was a great big scream from outside, and as he told it, he and Roy were they first ones outside, both of them in their underwear, my granddad holding his daddy’s gun and Roy fumbling with a box of bullets, They got a few rounds loaded as they ran around, trying to figure out what was going on. Their mama hollered at them to be careful while she threw on a housecoat. The littler kids stayed inside.

Eventually Granddad and Uncle Roy found a section of the heavy wooden gate that had been completely knocked down, and inside was a wounded goat, jerking around but clearly dying from a nasty bite to the neck. Granddad shot the poor thing and noticed one of its horns had broken off.

The goat was buried out of fear of rabies, and it was a significant loss for such a little farm. The gate was fixed and the two boys took turns for a couple weeks staying up late with the rifle, watching the animals. One night, while prowling around the treeline, Uncle Roy called out to Granddad, and when he met up with him he showed him the carcass of a wild pig, a broken goat horn stuck in its belly. Boars were mean, but Granddad had never thought one would could ever get that mean. They buried the pig, too, just in case.

Granddaddy was quick to dismiss this next part as “horse piss” but Uncle Roy often claimed he would still hear those animals around the property, usually late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. He would hear a screaming goat and a screaming pig, but the animals would be as calm as could be when he would check on them, like they didn’t hear a thing. He said sometimes he could even see dust getting kicked up like there was a scuffle going on, even though there weren’t any animals moving nearby. Granddad didn’t believe a word of it, and would always respond with a disdainful “Aw, come on” whenever Uncle Roy would share his story with the kids.

When Uncle Roy passed he left the house to Granddad. All his kids lived several states away and had no use for it, and Roy’s wife Ruth could comfortably live off her own pension as well as the widow’s benefits from Roy’s. Plus, she was moving into an apartment in a retirement community, and wanted nothing to do with the hassle of selling the property. So it fell to Granddad.

Granddad was always an active man, but by his mid-eighties the two-and-a-half hour drive to the old homestead was a little much, and he asked me to head out one weekend to make sure the house was cleared out and ready for sale. Roy had lived where the old family home had been, but by the early fifties he’d torn down the old house his father had put together and replaced it with a one-story brick home. Most of the farmland had been sold off as lots, so only a half acre remained in the family name. What had once been countryside was now a quaint but populated neighborhood.

So one Saturday afternoon I drove out. Movers had already cleared everything, and whatever Ruth didn’t want she’d either given away or stuck out by the road. I couldn’t see anything that had been left behind, and there was nothing major that was wrong with the place. I took some pictures in case a realtor wanted to see them or something, then spent about ten minutes taking apart a bookshelf I thought I could use in my apartment. This was November, just after Thanksgiving, and by the time I had the pieces in my trunk the sun had gone down. I locked the place up and made my way back to my car. It was silent and cold and dark, and I immediately froze when a scream filled the air. And then another, and then something guttural and angry answering it.

I don’t really know what I heard or where I heard it, because while the area was now a neighborhood it was still plenty country, and there were plenty of wild animals just outside the light of the lone streetlamp. But I thought I could hear shuffling stomps, like maybe the kind made by hooves. And when I jumped into my car and backed out into the street, I thought maybe I saw some dust kicked up from the yard.

But it was dark, and like I said, I don’t really know what I heard.

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October 1, 2018

So here’s my ghost story.

My family owns a house and some property out in Alabama. It’s an old place, not some cabin in the mountains or a cottage by the Gulf. It’s a farmhouse, built by hand by poor people who ate what they grew, and spent little because there wasn’t really anything to spend. The house is almost a century old. My great-grandmother raised nine kids and outlived two husbands there. What she couldn’t afford to buy, she often made by hand. Despite the hard work her life entailed she often dressed in a long white dress and wore a white straw hat. Even in her final years she enjoyed sitting in the sun beside her extensive garden, shelling peas while bees buzzed about the flowers by her hem. When she passed in the mid-seventies my grandmother dreamed about seeing her sitting outside, brilliant and white, until her mother stood without a word and walked around the corner of the house. My grandmother said she woke up calling after her, and could swear she saw her mother’s white frame pass by in the hall as she sat up. But of course her mother wasn’t there.

Our family reunions are held here, and my pops is usually one of the main organizers. Ours is a sprawling, country clan, and a little over four hundred people usually show up. It’s…a lot of work, and my parents usually arrive days early to prepare, with my sister and I in tow. Nowadays she and I do most of the grunt work, setting the time and hauling the necessary furniture from various churches, but back then we pretty much just loafed around while they adults did everything.

When I was about sixteen I was chilling in the bedroom I normally slept in when we stayed there. I was reading on the bed when my sister popped her head in to tell me our folks wanted us to drive some tables over from our uncle’s church. She then asked if I needed to use the bathroom, cuz she was gonna use the shower, and I told her no and thanked her. She closed the door as she left.

A couple minutes later I heard the doorknob turn. I didn’t think anything of it because most of the towels are stuffed in one of the closets in the room I tend to claim – I figured it was my sister grabbing one before heading down the hall. But then the knob turned again. And again. And then it started rattling. Which was weird, because the lock for that door had been broken longer than I’d been alive.

“It’s open,” I called out, and then the rattling stopped. I waited a beat, then shrugged and kept reading.

A half hour later I stepped into the kitchen to get some water, and I passed my sister.

“Hey, is everybody gone now?” she asked me.

“Who?” I figured she meant our parents, who had left hours ago to visit some cousins at their farm across the county. “Yeah, they’ve been gone since five. Why?”

My sister looked down the hall. “Anyone else come by?” Relatives often stopped by to say hey before the reunion proper, but no one had shown up that evening. I would have seen them coming up through the big bay window by my bed, and I told her as much.

“So who was that lady?” she asked.

“What lady?”

“The one I saw thirty minutes ago in the hall. The one in the white dress, with the hat.”

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Kickstarter Announcement: Horror, Podcasts, and Serial Storytelling

For the past few months, I’ve been busy scrambling about Central and North Georgia making people scream and cry. 

Don’t worry. There was a microphone involved. You’ll ALL hear their screams soon enough. 

Wait. 

Let me start over. 

Since June I’ve been recording vocals for a podcast project of mine, a horror series currently titled “Fire Call” In it, an agoraphobic woman reaches out for help against an obsessive serial arsonist with a mysterious connection to her past. In her efforts to reach beyond the bounds of her own doorway, she forges a bond with the 911 operator who takes her calls…and who has his own bizarre connection with the psychotic firebug terrorizing our heroine. 

The series was written to be intentionally short and simple. The entire plot unfolds as a series of phone calls, and involves only a small handful of actors. But, despite my efforts to keep the need for a budget to a minimum, production costs have arisen. 

Not exorbitantly, mind you, but still beyond my current capability of covering. Unless I, you know, decide to cut out nonessentials like food, water, and shelter. 

The biggest cost for the project is probably the biggest cost every online creative effort faces: server costs. While I had budgeted for the cover of these costs, the costs of filing LLC paperwork, and the costs of acquiring domain names has really built up, and there is little room for error should an unexpected curve ball, like (more) equipment or software malfunction, be thrown our way.

So to help with these costs, my production team and I have decided to do what all the cool kids are doing: beg for money from strangers on Kickstarter. 

We’re looking at a small goal – $500 to $1,000 – but we’re also looking to the success of the Kickstarter campaign to gauge the viability of this project and another we have in preproduction. Should we meet our goal – or, dare I hope, surpass it – the success will go a long way toward boosting our confidence in our project, and in encouraging us to follow through with producing its sister series, currently titled “Shadow House.”

Since “Fire Call” is a horror serial, I figured there was no better time to announce the upcoming crowdfunding effort than on Halloween. In two weeks, the campaign will launch, with plenty of perks for those lovely and generous souls who contribute, including a special holiday season token of appreciation come the campaign’s conclusion. I’ll announce its launch in a pleading, pitiful blog post, and we’ll see where things go from there.

Either way, this series WILL get made, but a successful funding effort will ensure it will be produced a lot sooner. Otherwise, look for the debut of “Fire Call” on iTunes in spring of the year 3179.

🎙📻😎👍

– The Awful Writer 

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Filed under Horror, Miscellaneous, The Podcast

Boto

lone car

She was out of my league, that was for sure. Not just that I had no chance with her. I mean I don’t even think I was allowed to look at her, really. Not short, pudgy me, coming out of the Quick Mart, gas station hot dog in one hand, Slush Puppy in the other.

She was cursing, in a southern twang that went with her husky voice. What made me notice her then, and not before when my fat ass was too distracted by the promise of sugar and tubes of meat, was the way her tank top jumped when she kicked the flat tire. It leapt as her flip flop slapped ineffectively against the rim. The sight was near-religious for me.

I looked away before she could catch me scoping her out, heard her yell into her phone. “Babe, c’mon! It’s not like I ran over that nail on purpose! Don’t be that way…I don’t know, I’ll call a cab or…”

I’d already tuned out by then, not eager to imagine the hunky, likely depressingly superior male specimen she was talking to. I’d set my junk food on the roof of my Acura and was fishing for my keys when I heard her say “Hey, excuse me? Excuse me!”

I wasn’t trying to be rude. There was just absolutely no reason for her to be talking to me. I didn’t realize what was happening until her voice, jarringly close, said “Hey, hold up!”

I turned, chili dog in one hand, jumbo Slush Puppy in the other, the breeze emphasizing how desperately baggy my shorts and tee shirt were.

“Hi,” she said, giving me a small smile. Auburn hair. Tan skin. Freckles on her nose, almost invisible under the halogens of the gas station. Every part of her lean, soft. I was almost hot enough for someone like her, once upon a time.

“Hey.” I dropped into the driver’s seat, still under the impression that there was nothing this Homecoming goddess was going to need me to stick around for.

“Where you headed?”

“Uh…just, just home.”

“Where’s home?”

I searched her eyes. They flickered down the road.

“That way,” I told her, pointing down the highway. She lit up.

“Oh, awesome! Can I get a ride?” She was beaming, already assuming she had her answer.

“Well, I’m kind of low on gas…” You’d probably want to call me an idiot, but really, what chance would I honestly have had with her? Do you really think I was blowing anything?

“Oh, I’ll pay you! I’ll totally pay you!” She swiped her hand like it was a done deal. “But my boyfriend has the money, so…”

“I dunno…” I said. Look, sex was not going to happen, okay? No matter what heroics I performed. Why go through the trouble when I already knew the outcome?

“Please?” She made a pouty face, reached through my open window and grabbed my arm. The way she was bent over, I could immediately tell she was a B-Cup.

“Okay,” I agreed immediately.

***

She told me her name was Britty. I thought that sounded fucking stupid for anyone else who wasn’t hot enough to instantly render men retarded. On her, however, it was perfect. She ran back to her car, reached inside, grabbed her bag. She banged her head on the door frame, and in her anger she kicked the car again.

“OW!” she screamed, immediately falling and grabbing her foot. Her face was scrunched in a look of pure agony.

I climbed out, jiggled over to her. I felt like a big strong man, despite my gut bouncing even more than my knees were. She was sitting almost Indian-style. The toe beside the big one on her right foot was swelling up.

“Looks like ya cracked it,” I said, hating how high-pitched my voice always was.

“Can you help me up?” She sounded so small and hurt I felt bad about the constant sexual thoughts I was having about her. She reached out her arms, wrapped them around my neck as I scooped an arm under her knees and shoulders and hoisted her up. I’ve carried heavier bags of groceries.

I got her into the passenger seat of my car. “Thank you,” she said sheepishly, smiling an embarrassed but grateful smile at me. It made me feel like a hero, despite my complete lack of definition.

She curled forward, cupping her injured foot as I closed the door. I jingled my keys as I walked to the driver’s side, using the sound to distract myself from my jiggling gut.

***

She called her boyfriend, told him she’d caught a ride with “some guy.” Apparently he wasn’t pleased with that. “Don’t get that way. Jesus, you know that’s not gonna happen. Ugh!”

Guess he was the jealous type. Whatever.

“So how far to your boyfriend’s place?” I asked when she hung up.

“About twenty miles.” She’d taken some pills she had in her purse, and her foot seemed to be bothering her less now. She was leaning back, looking out the window, when suddenly she sprung forward in her seat. “Shit! You have gas for this, right?”

I hadn’t thought about that. Honestly I’d just popped in because I have zero regard for what I put into my body. I checked my fuel gauge. “Uh, yeah…probably.”

“Damn, I’m sorry! I didn’t even think…” She fished around her purse. “Let me get you gas, okay? At least a gallon for the drive? Would that be enough?”

“This is a Prius. A gallon would get me to the next state.”

“Cool. Pull in here.” She waved me into a Citgo, handed me a credit card. “I trust you,” she smiled, looking me in the eye, clamping the collar down hard on my sense of ethics. Ugly boys can do no wrong to pretty girls, and she knew it.

I took the card, got out, ran it through the slot on the pump. She told me her zip code, and as soon as I punched it in, the computer read “DENIED.”

“Uh…it didn’t work.”

“Weird. Try it again.”

I did. “Nothing.”

“Shit!” She opened up her purse and climbed out. She winced as she balanced herself on her injured foot, shifted her weight, and hobbled over to the ATM. She swiped her card, punched numbers, yelled: “What the FUCK?!”

She jammed in her PIN again, stabbing the keys like they’d insulted her, apparently got the same response. “AHHH, GODDAMNIT!”

“Everything okay?”

“No everything’s not fucking okay? GODDAMNIT! GODDAMNIIIIIIT!” She balled her fist like she was preparing to punch the machine, but probably remembered her injured foot and dropped her arm. “My money’s gone! MY FUCKING MONEY’S GONE!”

“Fuck,” I said, as sympathetically as I could.

“I had two-thousand dollars in there! Oh no! Oh no!” Her voice had that whine that told me she was about to panic-cry.

“Hey, it’ll be fine. Just call the bank. Most of ‘em have fraud protection. They’ll put your money back.”

She didn’t seem convinced, but it seemed to comfort her somewhat. “You think so?”

“Totally. Same thing happened to me once. Got my money back the same day.”

She pouted, scrunched her eyebrows. “I’m sorry I can’t get you gas.”

“Shit, don’t worry about it.”

She hobbled back to her car, her foot clearly hurting her more than it was a second ago.

“You sure you don’t want me to take you to an emergency room?” I asked her.

“No, I’m fine. I’ll just…I’ll have my boyfriend take me to the doctor tomorrow.” She made a small, sick sound as she pushed herself into her seat with her foot.

I filled up my tank, and we were back on the road.

***

Her foot was really bothering her. She was moaning in discomfort two minutes in.

“Maybe you should take a couple more, um…pills.”

She looked at me then, unsure if I was judging her or not. “I’m not an addict.” She didn’t say it defensively. It sounded more like she was trying to convince herself.

Well, I thought, that was unprompted.

“Oh, no, I just…I mean, if you’re not going to the doctor about your foot until tomorrow, I just figured you’d want it to hurt less. I’m pretty sure you broke something.”

“Yeah, maybe…” She was staring through the floorboard, trying to convince herself that she wasn’t trying to convince herself. Finally she dug through her purse.

“I’m only gonna take a few.” She was telling herself, trying to make it sound like she was telling me. She spilled a small handful out of the bottle, rolled a few back inside, then tossed back the rest. She took out a bottle of water and took a deep swallow. When she put the cap back on, I smelled that it wasn’t actually water she’d just swigged.

She was completely out before I could ask her which road to turn off on. Shit.

***

It was completely dark when she started awake, taking a rushed breath and blinking her eyes. I’d pulled into a paved lot for a hair salon that hadn’t been built yet, waiting for her to rouse and tell me where to go. She’d been out for a couple hours

“Shit! What time is it?”

“About eleven.”

“Fuck. Fuck!” She dug out her phone, swiped her finger over the screen. She shook the knee of her good leg as she waited for an answer.

“Hey Brian? Jesus, babe, I’m sorry. I’m on my…don’t be that way! Jesus! I hurt my foot and took something for it. See for yourself when we…the fuck are talking about?! You fucking ashsole, you know I wouldn’t…what do you…?”

She had a look of disbelief.

“What? You can’t be serious! Babe, I would never do that! How could you think that? I told you! I hurt my foot! I took some pills and…Brian, please listen!” She was crying, sobbing actually. The kind of sob that hits you by surprise, so you don’t have time to mask the panic. “No! No! Babe, I moved all the way down here for you, why would I…babe, no, listen! Why would I…babe, please. No! No, Brian, I…!” She looked at the phone, fear rising, swiped her finger over it, held it back to her ear. I heard what sounded like voicemail. She dialed again. Voicemail. Again. Answer this time. Couldn’t make out the words clearly, but it sounded like Brian didn’t want her coming home.

She started sobbing, bawling, and smacked her phone into the dashboard as hard as she could. I heard the screen spider web, and she hurled the little box through the window. She curled up, eyes against her knees, her tears making dark streaks across her jeans.

I sat in uncomfortable silence, not sure what would be the right thing to say. Obviously the plans had changed.

“Wrong guys. I was pick the fucking wrong guys…”

Abruptly she opened the car door. I assumed she was going after her phone at first, then I noticed she was dragging her bags with her.

“Hey! Where you going?”

She sniffled, wiped her eyes, then in a disgusted voice she said “Well, obviously you don’t have to take me anywhere now. But I appreciate your help.”

“What?”

“I’m gonna go. I gotta…I gotta go catch a bus or something…”

“The bus station is miles away! I can’t let you out here this late! We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“It’s alright. I can make it.”

“Bullshit. Your toe is broken. No way you can walk this highway like that.”

“I’ll be fine…” She sounded less sure, and glanced over her shoulder down the dark road.

“Look, let me take you to the emergency room.”

She shook her head. “I can’t pay for it. I don’t have any insurance or…” She started crying again. Holy fuck, was she having a shit night.

“Come on,” I pleaded, figuring I was being more genteel than creepy. I wanted so much to help her out, to be enough of a hero for her that maybe, maybe, in some fucking way, she would overlook the fact that I looked like a pimply bag of shit. “We have to get that foot looked at. You won’t make it far off the bus if it isn’t treated.”

She seemed to be considering this.

“I can’t leave you out here,” I told her. “I just…can’t, man.”

She smiled. Her eyes had that sad light girls get when something touches them.

“You’re so sweet!” She said it to me like I was her fat-assed little brother. But I would take that over abandoning her any day.

She gave the highway another glance, then climbed back in. In another moment we were moving.

“You’re just the sweetest thing ever,” she told me, her voice thick with her melted heart. In her tenderness, I had become simultaneously heroic and, consequently, devoid of sexual intrigue.

I could live with that.

***

The hospital was another ten miles. It was a sleepy, spread-out Georgia town. Nothing was a close drive away.

She’d taken some more pills for her foot. Fewer than before, but enough to put a dopey smile on her face. “You’re so amazing,” she said, almost with a slur. “You’re like, my fucking hero.”

I smiled. She scooched up, leaned over, gave me a clumsy kiss on the cheek. “Fuckin’ knight in armor,” she told me, and started giggling. She fell back into her seat, punched me playfully in the shoulder. My arm rippled where she hit me. Everything on me was so loose nowadays.

She moaned, contented, wrapped her arms behind her head. “I feel so fucking safe around you.”

“I’m glad, Britty.”

She gave me a smile of instant friendship. “Hey, what’s your name?”

I shook my head. “You probably couldn’t pronounce it.”

“Try me!”

I shook my head. “It’s an old name. They don’t really make the letters for it anymore.”

She scrunched her brows, shook her head. Tried to make sense of what I just told her.

“Wait…what?”

“How’s your foot?”

She sighed. “Still fuckin’ hurts.”

“You should take some more pills,” I told her.”I mean, what harm could they do now?”

“Yeah,” she said, slick and lazy. “What harm could they do now?”

She tapped a few into her palm, swallowed them.

“Sure that’s enough?” I asked.

She smiled. “Fuckin’ right.” She poured more, a small handful. She chased them with the rest of her vodka.

“Sure that’s enough?” she slurred back at me.

I smiled. “You would know, wouldn’t ya?”

She nodded. “Shit yes, I would.” She drained the rest of the bottle.

“You good?”

She leaned back, got comfy. “Mm-hmm,” she murmured. “Hey, where we goin’ anyway?”

“To my place.”

“Hey – but what…”

“Don’t worry…I’m a gentleman.”

She laughed, barking and uncomprehending. “Ha! Yeah…fuckin’ knight an’ armor…”

“Yeah,” I said. “Night.”

***

She was still warm when I stopped the car behind my house. Her breath hissed out of her when I picked her up and carried her inside. Rotten floorboards threatened to give under my weight and hers. Light from the half moon peppered in through holes in the roof.

She’d died before her gag reflex could kick in. Thank Christ. I hated having to scrub out my car.

I hear my brothers smacking in the night. They’re hungry, but she’s mine.

“No, you handsome devils,” I tell them. “Sate your lusting bellies elsewhere.”

They growl, irritated, but any of them would say the same to me. They would have no trouble finding prey. They’re so beautiful, all of them. Some could even slip into dreams.

But seduction is such a misunderstood art. There are other ways to break down the walls between prey and their trust. And it’s the trust we need. To feed. To fuck. It’s the trust we take, so that we may live. The infinitely harmless can be as inviting as the sensuous nighttime lover. We all have our guile.

I kick aside the loose boards in the floor, step into the dark, flowing water. Country plumbing, in days before daylight could travel through wires.

I step into the rushing water, my bulk consumed by its chilly froth. I sink with her, down to the dark place others only see in dreams. My gorgeous brothers spread into the night. They only have so long before daylight robs their looks.

Demon lovers. Nightmare beasts. Forceful and potent. Lean and beautiful. Fat and hungry.

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Filed under Fiction, Horror

Cool Hearts

staples

 

Running again. When I’m not running I’m shambling. I hear gunshots, feel chunks flying out of my back. At least they miss my head.

The head. My mind’s the only thing that feels like it’s still a part of me. Everything else always feels numb.

I miss my heartbeat.

***

Stupid to go so far, I know, but food is scarce. Our bodies still process meat, somehow, still use it to repair the normal wear and tear. Human meat works best, but we’ll eat animals if we find ‘em already dead. Or if they don’t mind us putting our hands on ‘em.

A deer runs by. Deer. So good, so hard to catch. And strong; one of those things can take five of us, no problem. We have tools, weapons. A lot of us even remember how guns work. I don’t think the living know about that. They’d probably double their efforts if they did.

Pretty sure I lost them. I found a river and let myself fall in. Hit a bunch of rocks when I reached the rapids, stayed under for a while. The water was cold. Really cold. Perfect. I don’t think it got over fifty all day. Too damn hot.

The water kept me safe. After about an hour I bobbed to the surface. Clouds were covering the sky. They told me it was safe to climb ashore. Their rain and thunder would drive the living back.

I feel the raindrops pooling in the pockets where my skin has worn away. It drowns the awful bugs that try to lay their eggs in my flesh.

I make my way to camp.

***

I see camp, far away. No fire; never fire. Just the others, shambling around, most of them probably unaware they’re moving. That happens sometimes. I’ll sit down, stare into space. Next thing I know, I’m walking, no idea how I got on my feet. I guess we sleepwalk. Maybe we daydream.

Our camp is small. Didn’t use to be. A lot of us once, enough to keep everyone away. Then the living burst through, stealing guns from a store we don’t use, bombing us to cover their escape even though we’d all fed that day. The little girl with the torn teddy burned real fast. The teddy turned to ashes before her groans died away. The staples I’d used to keep her bear together had melted from the heat. I still don’t know what they used when they firebombed us in our sleep.

I keep the staples, stuffed in a chamber my heart doesn’t use anymore. I take them out when the moon is full enough to make them glint. She had very bright eyes. I miss her.

***

The fat one grunts at me. He’s sitting down, like he usually is. Sitting bowlegged. Shotgun blast took out an ankle, now it’s too much trouble for him to wander around. He spends a lot of time throwing cards in a pile, then shoveling them back in his hands to throw them again. Pictures on the cards show his wife and daughter. They’re still alive. His wife’s the one who shot the ankle.

The new one still doesn’t like us. She hasn’t gotten used to what happened. We bit her…can’t remember who did exactly. It’s not a disease that makes us walk, like a lot of the living think. TV said something about radiation before there wasn’t TV anymore. But we’re dead; there’s a lot of nasty things swimming inside us. One of us bit her. She got real sick. I think the living pushed her away. She came to us, kept waving her arms around our mouths. A dead bear had kept us pretty well fed, and we weren’t interested. She cried a lot, until she got real cold and still. Now she just sits by herself. I don’t like her very much.

I like Rosa. Rosa’s mine. She likes me too. I’m hers. We like to stand around and put our hands on each other’s waists. We both remember music. We growl, but we can’t remember the tunes Rosa used to dance too. She wears a tight red dress that her body has stained. She wears underwear, too, I think. I know she still has dollar bills stuck in a frilly band around her leg. They weren’t always there, but one day we found the money fluttering along the ground. Rosa picked them up and stuck them in her garter. She made a sound like she couldn’t quite remember how to laugh. I like Rosa. Rosa likes me. We dance, even if we’re not actually moving much.

I stand next to Rosa. I took a chunk out of the big one in the blue uniform, the one always giving the other living people orders. He shot me. Always shooting me. Sometimes I wonder if he hates me. Doesn’t even know me. I let Rosa take the meat out of my mouth. She doesn’t have cheeks, so she eats it all in one bite. Rosa’s lucky. She doesn’t have a face that gets in her way when she’s eating.

Rosa keeps biting at me, and wails a little when she remembers she needs lips to kiss. I bite back. It’s okay, Rosa. It’s okay.

That seems to calm her down. The rain comes down harder. Rosa tilts her head back, looks at the clouds like she’s surprised. The rain pours off her face, and she closes what’s left of her eyelids to enjoy it. The rain washes Rosa. She smells like ginger. And me.

***

The big blue one shoots at us. He’s got the arm that he swung at me wrapped up real tight. He’s yelling, angry. I’m pretty sure he hates me. He doesn’t see me, though.

Billy and Mary just stand there. They never really got that the living don’t like us. They forget we’re not like them. Billy actually waves. He’s hugging Mary close, still hugging her when the blue man makes her head explode with his shotgun.

Billy just stands there a minute, ignoring the slug that goes through his chest. He kind of just ends up on his knees, holding Mary. But she’s not moving. She’s gone, gone forever now. Billy doesn’t have Mary anymore.

It takes a while for him to get it. He has to see Pops go down, his tie fluttering on the ground, before he understands. Mary’s gone. He doesn’t have Mary anymore. Billy doesn’t understand why the big man did that to him. He closes his eyes and rasps, trying to cry. He makes one sad sound that maybe could have been a wail, and then the back of Billy’s head shatters. The mud is flecked in light gray. Bits of skull are still stuck to Billy’s skin. Billy has Mary again now. They’re both on the ground. They’re both not moving.

The big man shoots at us a little more, then runs away. We’re sad Billy’s gone. He used to run. Still remembered how to run. He’d run, and those of us who could remember would laugh. Or try to.

***

Some of us can survive without our brains. I don’t know how, or why, but some of us can. Not many. Probably not me. My brain is the only part of me I have.

I think about that while some birds are eating Billy and Mary. Some of them let Rosa pet them. She likes birds. One time we went back into the city to find Rosa’s bird. It was on the bottom of the cage, not moving. Rosa picked it up in both hands, bounced it up and down. She looked sad. It didn’t move. She tried to remember its name and grunted a little. Then she got so mad she tore pieces of her face off. Now she can’t kiss so well, but I bet Rosa’s happier without the skin getting in her way. She gets to see real Rosa when she looks into the water.

Sometimes I think about peeling off the rest of my face. It’s mostly burnt up. It feels tight when I try to eat. I tried it once but Rosa stopped me. She likes me like I am. I like Rosa.

One bird seems sick. It walks slower than the others, has to take a rest. It walks over to Rosa, pecks at her leg. Rosa picks it up, looks it in the eye for a while. It doesn’t move, just rests and breathes. Then she hands it to me. I eat its head in one bite. It kicks for a while. The meat stays warm while I eat, all that kicking pumping the blood. I like it. I rasp while I eat. I see little cords in Rosa’s face twitch as she smiles. Rosa likes me.

***

The blue man doesn’t look well, but he shoots at us anyway. He holds his arm close like it hurts. He shoots Rosa, hits her knee. I bet Rosa can still dance though, just not very well. Probably.

He shoots the fat man. The fat man’s cards scatter everywhere. His daughter’s face blows away in the breeze. He smooshes his wife into the mud when he falls over. His brains are all torn up. They bounce in his blown up head when he falls over.

The big blue man almost falls down. Almost. Then he stands up again and shoots one more time. Shoots me.

Shoots me in the head.

I fall down. I don’t get back up.

***

Rosa’s fingers in my heart. I like Rosa. Like her in my heart.

She takes out the staples. Rosa liked the little girl too. She left pictures of the little girl hanging by the birdcage. Rosa with her face still on, standing next to the little girl. The little girl standing on a ball, holding a big shiny cup. Before they were both what we are now.

The staples glitter in the moonlight. Almost as bright as Rosa’s eyes.

I only see things, little things, but they’re going away. Going away. I’m going away. My brains are leaking out. All of me is going away.

Funny. Light on the staples. Rosa’s eyes. Living people don’t have any light in their eyes. Always blink it away.

All of me.

***

I like Rosa. Rosa likes me.

***

One day I get up. Rosa walks up to me, sits down and looks at me. I just sit there for a second before I start to crawl. Rosa crawls behind me.

After a little while I reach a puddle. Most of my head’s gone above my eyes. Big chunks of brain hang on my skull.

My brain. Big pieces of me. Don’t feel like mine anymore.

I shake my head, hard. Clear it out. I sling bits of brain on Rosa. She rasps, because she can’t remember how to laugh anymore.

Clear my head. Feel like me.

I get up, but it takes a while. I have to stop and think about it.

Think. Don’t know how to do that right now, but I guess I’ll learn.

I get up. I start walking into the woods.

***

The big blue guy is on his hands and knees. He’s looking into the river. Won’t see anything but foam. It’s the rapids we’re at now. I walk up to him. Rosa follows, though her heels get stuck in the mud.

The blue guy gets up, turns around. His mouth is open and he’s tilting his head. He’s gray. Veins around his eyes aren’t throbbing anymore, like they always did before.

He looks sad. He makes a little moan, reaches out to me. I push him in the water.

He just looks confused, but I don’t care. I don’t like him. I don’t want him in our camp. I don’t want him near Rosa.

He just keeps looking at me, even when the rocks break his ribs and flip him in the water. He just looks at me, and gets washed away. Maybe he’ll fall off a waterfall.

I turn around. Rosa gets her heels out of the mud, and walks with me until she’s ahead.

I follow Rosa. I’ll always follow Rosa. We have time now. We don’t have to run right now, like we always have to.

I like Rosa. Rosa likes me.

We shamble on. It’s gonna be dark, but not yet. The living won’t come right now. We have time to walk in the cool air, in our cool skin. We have time.

I touch the staples in my heart. I’m lucky. The living don’t have any in theirs.

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There Is No Moonlight

moonlight

 

June 1967

Gracie Ellington didn’t know she’d backed over the boy until she saw him twisted and wriggling before the nose of her car. She almost didn’t even see him then, with her tires kicking up the hot Alabama dust.

Nothing worked right for Gracie. The little boy had black hair and the kind of skin that looked like it never darkened, no matter how much summer sun it got. She hated the boy in the dust, the mangled little bully. There would be problems because of this. Gracie Ellington was a meek woman, and the world took notice when you didn’t bite back.

She hit her head on the horn a few times and started crying, huffing with frustration through her tears. She felt like she was drowning in them. They trickled over her lips and teeth and dripped down her mouth. She could feel them pooling up inside her. Nothing was on Gracie’s side.

The morning shopping never got done. Gracie was still crying and slapping the steering wheel when a passing trucker knocked on her window. The man was black, scared to be in the presence of white people experiencing tragedy. Such people had a habit of inventing blame to level against the blameless.

The black man eventually radioed for the police, and a trooper on his way to Birmingham came by near sunset. He scolded the trucker, saying if he’d known the man was calling on behalf of a white woman he’d have gotten there sooner. It was sundown before the cold boy was hauled away, in a white pickup the county used for dead bodies and hurt blacks. The trucker was given a citation for unlawful trespass.

Ms. Gracie was given a pill and driven to Doc Shore’s house. The doctor wasn’t there, but his wife gave Gracie some bourbon and another pill. It wasn’t until after ten when Gracie mentioned her husband wouldn’t be there to pick her up.

Gracie sat through the night on the doctor’s porch swing, drinking coffee with chicory. Her shaking hands made her slop a lot of it. By sunrise the dried coffee had formed thick stains on the whitewashed boards.

Doc Shore drove her home. They had to go through the side door so as not to cut through the police tape out front. Ed’s hand lingered on the side of her bottom after he’d gotten her into bed, and when he realized it was there he snatched it back with a jerk.

Later, the stains in the dirt driveway looked a lot to Gracie like coffee spilled on whitewashed wood.

June 2014

Delia is crying over the shriveled woman in the hospital bed. Gracie does her best to quiet her daughter. She can’t bear the idea of anyone morning the lifeless creature before them.

This dying thing corrupted Delia for ten years. There were nights where Gracie had been violently ill by the involuntary understanding of what her daughter did with Naomi. The woman was a predator, twenty years older than the girl she’d stolen. She’s defiled her in probably every way, tasting her and being tasted by her, a communion taken over the course of a decade.

Naomi is forty-seven, but the lymphoma has edged her closer to two hundred. Her skin is red and dry, peeling off in little square flakes, cracking wide wherever natural lines have formed. A little less than a dozen tough, wiry hairs are stuck across her head. Her eyes were closed long before the coma; it had been a hard fight before then just to keep them open.

The nurses come, and disconnect the machine that breathes for Naomi. The monitor records her slowing heartbeat. A doctor marks the time of death. Delia weeps in her shuddering mother’s arms.

“We did all we could,” she coos to her daughter. It was even easier than it’d been with Ed.

***

Children make faces as they pass Gracie’s house. Sometimes if they see her in the screened-in porch they’ll yell and call her “Murder Lady!”

In her kitchen, Gracie balances her checkbook, scribbling in the pink notepad she’s favored for two decades. Garish red and purple flowers overcrowd the cover, matching the rose vines etched in the heavy pen Ed gave her their first anniversary together.

The passing children throw rocks at a stray cat in Gracie’s yard. They think it belongs to the old woman. They’re excited by the excuse for cruelty.

The cat doesn’t run away. It hisses, charges, cuts a boy on the leg, and then darts into the woods. Later an angry mother pounds on Gracie’s door, yelling to the old woman to control the animals she doesn’t have.

“Do you want to kill the rest of the kids around here?” the middle-aged woman yells. Her slaps excite a yellow jacket resting on the doorframe, and it stings her above the ear. She flails her arms and runs back to the road.

***

Delia won’t stay with Gracie. She’s got her awful red cases packed inside the dead lesbian’s Volkswagen, red cases the lesbian bought for her. There’s almost nothing left of Delia that the dead woman’s lust didn’t conquer.

“You should stay,” Gracie begs. She was always short, but stooped as she is she could tumble into Delia’s chubby stomach.

“I can’t Mom. Naomi had affairs I said I’d settle…”

“Damn the affairs. What does she have left anymore?”

“Mom, I owe it to her.”

“You’re finally loose of her and you still can’t let anything of hers go.”

“I love you, Mom. I’ll call when I get there.”

“What kind of woman flees from family this way?”

Delia tries to kiss Gracie’s cheek, but her mother slaps at her, missing her with her palm but grazing her with stained nails. Red marks that will vanish in five minutes flare on her daughter’s cheek.

“I love you,” Delia reminds herself, and goes to the car. “I’ll call you soon.”

“You’d be better off dead!” Gracie shrieks. “For God’s sake baby, don’t you see…?”

The Volkswagen mutters to itself and bounces down the clay road. Gracie’s scared. She knows they give jobs to women up in Massachusetts, even those who submit to other women. Hell, she could get a job anywhere; things are different nowadays. Her ties won’t bind much longer. Gracie pulled her money from Delia’s college fund, but Delia graduated anyway. Soon it won’t matter how many dollars Gracie hides away behind invented shields of poverty.

***

There’s a nest of baby birds that won’t stop squalling, and Gracie takes Bobby’s air gun and shoots a pellet into the dark. There’s a squawk, and she hears wings flapping. The baby birds squall louder.

Gracie goes out. It’s after nine, during that summer hour when the sun fights with all it’s got to stay above the horizon. In the dim dusk Gracie sees a single wing slowly wave to her. A thrasher is on its side, its beak wide open. It doesn’t breathe. Something like water is spilling from its mouth, staining the concrete porch.

The other thrasher won’t go up to the nest when it returns. It flicks about, chirping and beating the dead bird with its wings. There’s a long moment when it bends down, like it’s listening for something. Gracie shoots it through the eye. The bird flops on its back, its legs making slow, swimming kicks while the rest of it lies prostrate and stiff.

The baby birds keep Gracie up all night. At some point she hears the growling of a cat and the hiss of a possum. In the morning the dead birds are still there.

***

Mothers pull their children away from Gracie while the old woman walks through the Food Tiger. A tall trooper with a skinny build and a lumpy gut comes up to her.

“How’re ya today, Ms. Gracie?”

“Can’t you people just leave me alone?” she begs, looking to the floor. She whispers it almost; any louder and she might cry.

“We won’t hurt you, Ms. Gracie,” the trooper tells her, almost like he’s sorry for her. He tips his hat and moves over to the meat cooler.

The cashier wrinkles her nose like Gracie smells bad, and practically throws her change to her. The trooper stands by the door while the bag boy loads the food into her car. On her way out of the parking lot she passes a red Impala. There’s a teenage boy behind the wheel, with a faint pink line on his cheek that was fresh about ten years before. He watches her as she turns onto Harris Road, and resists the urge to scratch the old scar. It only itches when he thinks about her.

Gracie unloads the groceries, yelling at the baby birds with every bag she brings in.

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” she screeches. The last bag contains the Tylenol she takes about ten times a day. She shoves one bottle in her purse, puts the other five behind the bathroom mirror, beside the old straight razor of Ed’s. She carried that razor for awhile after he and the kids left, but for the last decade it’s sat on the same dusty glass rack, the chrome blade stained an ugly spilled brown.

“It was only a dog,” she mutters. She shuts the mirror with a slam.

***

She puts crumpled flowers pulled from her backyard on Ed’s grave. Cancer’s convenient. All you have to do is pull away. There isn’t a simpler weapon in the world. Even the old razor was never that easy to use.

Bobby’s grave is next to Ed’s. The town keeps the marker shining like the day it was bought. Yellowing notes are staked to the ground. “You poor little lamb.” “God bless the blighted children.”

Her plot is marked beside Ed’s, her space on the stone still blank. The grass here is always dying, washed as it is in piss. Maybe she could bury the birds here.

When she gets home the baby birds are still crying. The carcasses of the parents are gone now, leaving only ruffled feathers and chewed bits of skin.

***

A dog is calling from down the road. Probably the mutt the Davisons keep for their screaming kids. Gracie has a steak in the freezer for the dog, one she’s never gotten around to preparing. The days are always so short.

It’s after nine and the baby birds in the old hickory tree won’t stop squealing. Something has to be done. Gracie stomps to the bathroom in her old pink slippers and fishes the straight razor out from behind the mirror. There’s a half-moon out, and it’s bright enough to see by. Gracie turns the bare porch light on anyways.

There’s a stump left over from an oak Ed cut down, back before he left. Gracie uses it to get a leg up, then steps onto the small, leaning trunk of the dehydrated hickory tree, using the knobby bark for footholds.

The razor glints in the moonlight. Bobby once told her there isn’t any moonlight, just sunlight reflected off the moon. Gracie must not think about that too long. Too much consideration and she’ll spin. Life must be a pliable thing.

The blade shines in the light despite the puppy’s brown blood. Ed had railed at her for that, grabbed her even. Then she’d put the razor to his shoulder and he’d let her go. He’d planned to take Bobby with him when he left the next day, but of course there was only Delia to take away afterward.

The Black-Eyed Susans still grow where they’d put the nipping puppy, though how much was left of it to grow on Gracie couldn’t imagine. Weren’t mummies made from hot, dry dust?

Gracie grips the razor like she did on that day ten years ago, when the ice cream truck had stopped by her car, and the children had been bumping against her. The razor had flashed like cold lightning against the boy’s cheek. Afterward, tenderness to women had delivered her back into her home, but the judge had warned her: “I think now we know the kind of woman you are.”

But that boy hadn’t even died. If he had they wouldn’t have let her keep the razor. People were so eager to condemn the meek. Angry tears come. The world is a creeping vine. All she left him with was a little pink line on the cheek. Was that worth so much?

She thinks of Bobby in the dust. In the sunlight afforded to us at night, incidents and accidents enjoy mixed company.

She’s looking down into the nest now, her old arms shaking as she fights to keep hold to the shaking branches. Her white hair hangs loose, and she tries to shake it over her shoulder. The motion throws her off-balance, but she finds a lump of bark and steps down on it.

Except it isn’t a lump of bark, just a sprig of leaves poking out from a budding new branch. They yield to her weight instantly. Gracie scrapes at the bark of the tree with the razor as she falls.

She hits her face against the oak stump, and lands on her side with a sound like a wet bag of rocks. Her hip actually does hit a rock, and there’s so much pain that for a second she panics, thinking she won’t be able to face it. But she lucks out. The pain disappears, replaced with a heavy feeling of icy cold.

The wires to the porch light aren’t great, and the bulb goes dark. The moon beholds her, but doesn’t care. That’s alright. The moonlight isn’t there. Its indifference doesn’t hurt.

The razor is stuck a little ways into the palm of her hand. It’s folded against the ground, the handle split down the middle from the impact. She’s surprised the cut isn’t bleeding much, so maybe it’s not too bad.

She gets sleepy, but never actually falls asleep. After a couple hours she feels cool, but she doesn’t shiver. The right side of her face is so puffy she practically has a pillow to rest her head upon.

Her phone begins to ring in the kitchen. Delia is back in Boston now.

The phone rings and rings, and then goes quiet. Half an hour later, it rings again. Gracie, feeling cool in the summer heat, is content to let it ring.

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